Gibraltar's dream of competing in UEFA and European football club competitions received a significant boost on Wednesday night as their bid to become a member of UEFA was "discussed, and a road map which includes financial and educational support from UEFA" was agreed.
The Gibraltar Football Association
(GFA) first applied to join UEFA in the late 1990s and this prompted the Spanish federation, the RFEF, to threaten to quit all international and club football competitions.
While a simply unthinkable prospect (Spain are the current World and European football champions and Real Madrid, Barcelona and others are playing football watched all over the world) UEFA took the threat seriously and changed its eligibility criteria so now all new members must be recognised by the United Nations.
As this switch was made after the application was submitted, the GFA appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), which has repeatedly upheld Gibraltar’s case. Leaked documents from the latest CAS ruling in August 2011
– which again ruled that UEFA must consider Gibraltar’s membership – revealed that it was assigned one of the lowest priorities since it was deemed ‘politically sensitive
’. UEFA neither appealed against nor acknowledged this ruling but in January 2012 invited the GFA to its headquarters in Nyon. The two sides have been in negotiations since and today confirmed the details of a roadmap to membership.
As detailed in the roadmap, the GFA will organise (with UEFA’s co-operation) an international youth tournament in Gibraltar in October this year, in addition to staging UEFA refereeing courses for locally-registered referees. More investment will be made in grassroots football development on the Rock and the GFA will provide assistance with related governance issues.
UEFA has also agreed to help improve the Victoria Stadium
– left, Gibraltar’s only football ground which due to its location on a narrow and disputed isthmus between the Rock and Spain was the main reason for FIFA rejecting its membership application. The UK Ministry of Defence recently handed over a military sports field on the other side of the Rock to the Gibraltar government, and if further objections are made, the GFA now has the option to relocate to this site.
“The GFA is excited about the prospect of working jointly and in collaboration with UEFA on these and other initiatives identified in the roadmap and leading to the full membership vote
,” said the GFA in a statement
Upon hearing the news, Conservative MEP Ashley Fox said “I was delighted to read of the decision by the UEFA governing body to provide financial and educational support to Gibraltarian FA. I have no doubt that we will now hear howls of outrage from across the border as the Spanish threaten to boycott European Football, but if they do then let them.
“We all know that the World Champions aren’t going to cut themselves off and exist in splendid football isolation. Gibraltar has the right to be represented in UEFA, and I hope that this week’s news will help achieve this goal,” he said.
Six of Britain’s 14 remaining overseas territories are already members of FIFA, including Bermuda and the Cayman Islands. In the meantime Gibraltar has competed against other outcast countries and is a member of the Federation of International Football Independents (FIFI
), an alternative to FIFA. In 2007, Gibraltar won the Island Games for the first time, defeating Rhodes 4–0
The vote on Gibraltar’s application will be held at the May 2013 UEFA Congress in London, the host city of that year’s Champions League Final.
If accepted and Gibraltar becomes UEFA’s 54th member, it will nonetheless still be a long number of years before Manchester United (UK) find themselves lining up against Manchester United (Gibraltar) in the UEFA Champions League…
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